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ploy their talents in copying from Italian models, models, too, very susceptible of improvement, the choice could not have been made with greater judgment. Casti, like most modern Italian writers, is often meagre and diffuse; and the energetic lay of Pulci is stamped with the rudeness and severity of antiquity. Mr. Rose has condensed his original. The pseudo-Whistlecraft bas refined on what he has imitated. But in order to appreciate the Court of Beasts,' and the Tale of King Arthur,' it is absolutely necessary that our readers should be enabled to form a just idea of their Italian prototypes.
The narrative poems of the Italians, which in other countries would be all grouped together as epics, have been classed with great nicety by their litterati. The Orlando Furioso, according to their poetical nomenclature, is their chief romantic, and the Gerusalemme Liberata their first heroic poem. The Secchia Rapita of Tassoni is accounted a chef-d'oeuvre in the heroic-comic style. Burlesque poetry is exemplified in the Ricciardetto, and the Animali Parlanti is considered wholly as a satire. The Ultramontani cry out against these subtle classifications, as not existing in nature. We content ourselves with stating the Italian theory as a matter of fact: and perhaps some other facts which we intend to bring forward may tend to elucidate the question, whether it be right or wrong to arrange the different species of poems under distinct names, and according to laws supposed to be essential to each class?" It is possible that the Italians may have been compelled to sort their epics into families, in order to assist themselves in making : way through the multitude: for during the fifteenth,' sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the narrative poems published in Italy nearly equal in bulk and number the volumes of voyages, and travels and history which have appeared in England during the present reign.
Every line of the Animali Parlanti discloses the object of the author. Satire was his only aim. He does not ridicule the religion, or the politics, or the ethics of any peculiar sect or nation; he laughs at all faith, and all patriotism, and all morality; yet his satire has not been always understood : and politicians and party-men have been so simple as to quote the verses of Casti, imagining that the laughers would be on their side.
Casti was born in the Papal dominions, about the year 1720. He was a priest and a professor of rhetoric; but he soon quitted his college, and turned' bis back upon the altar. He rambled through most of the continental courts as a professional bel-esprit. Poor, yet independent, he was the guest of the great; and he died in 1803, full of years, as he was leaving an entertainment. Casti never
praised any one of the kings and princes who protected him in their turns; but he successively ministered a more poignant treat to their vanity by ridiculing their royal neighbours. As soon as he was out of the reach of the claws of one sovereign, he immediately satirized his discarded patron at the court of another. When his royal protectors read his verses, and enjoyed the satirical portraits of their compeers, they laughed at each other, and the world at large laughed more heartily at them all. The Casti breed is no rarity in common life; but the individuals who compose it excite litile attention, because they do not write, and because they carry on their operations in private sets and circles. They existed in ages less civilized than our own: such was the Thersites of Honier.
Awed by no shame, by no respect controld,
His figure such as might his soul proclaim.--I. b. ii. Casti was even uglier than the Grecian: Partly through disease, and partly through the doctor, he had lost a piece of his nose, and his palate. He snuffled out his licentious verses: and the unblushing cynical impudence with which he recited his metrical bawdry, formed a whimsical contrast to his name, and a hideous one to his sacerdotal character, for he never ceased to reckon himself an Abbé, the petit collet being always accepted in continental society as an apology for plebeian extraction.
Casti acquired great celebrity by his Novelle Galanti.' There are few men so graceless as to confess that they have read the book; yet the French and Italian booksellers continue to make money by reprinting it in secret. Since the days of Boccaccio, Italy has been infested by works of this description. Yet with the exception of Casti, and the infamous Aretine,* these authors do not appear to have written with the deliberate intent of corrupting the morals of their readers; and greatly as they have degraded themselves, they only participated in the common pollution of the times. Ariosto only versified the table-talk of the Italian nobles, nay of the Italian pontiffs. In the 16th century the spirit of chivalry was blended with the spirit of licentiousness. A thousand such contradictions may be found in the history of civilized society,
* The real name of Aretino, who acquired the epithet of the Infamous, was Pietro Bucci. Another Aretino, Leonardo Bruni, was called the Historian. Both were born at Arezzo; the historian in 1369, and Peter the Infamous in 1492. The bones of the historian rest at Florence, near the remains of Galileo and Michael Angelo. Peter died at Venice, but where he is buried no one knows, or wishes to know, Madame de Staël and the Rev. Mr. Eustace were ignorant of the existence of the historian, and therefore they imagined they saw the tomb of the infamous Aretine by the side of the tombs of Galileo and Michael Angelo, and they have moralized thereon. The learned lady and the reverend gentleman also saw the comb of Boccaccio in the same church. It happens, however, that the tomb is twelve miles off.
, and they must be carefully observed by bim who wishes to study human nature. The nobles of the court of Elizabeth broke their spears in honour of their royal mistress, or they fought around the fortress of Beauty, besieged, and besieged in vain, by Love, and Wantonness, and Desire. At the same time, Sir John Harrington dedicated his version of Ariosto to the Virgin Queen. The loose yet romantic poetry of Ariosto agreed with the manners of the age. The good knight therefore did not scruple to translate the licentious passages of his original word for word. He professes indeed to apologize for the indelicacy of Ariosto, but the apology is a curious specimen of the mock-modesty which it was then usual for authors to affect.
• It may be, and is by some objected, that although Ariosto wrote Christianly in some places, yet in others he is too lascivious, as in that of ........ Alas! if this be a fault, pardon him this one fault, though I do not doubt but that too many of you, gentle readers, will be too exorable on this point; yea, methinks I see some of you searching already for those places of the book, and you are half offended that I have not made some directions, that you might find out and read them immediately; but I beseech you stay awhile, and as the Italian saith, pian piano, fair and softly, and take this caveat with you, to read them as my
author meant them, to breed detestation and not delectation.' We are far from suspecting the “gentle readers' of our days, like Sir John Harrington: but his apology, as well as his good advice at the end, is fallacious. The tone taken by Ariosto at the opening of the adventure plainly proves that he felt he was somewhat guilty.
You ladies, ye that ladies hold in prize,
Turn o'er the leaf, and let this tale alone,
Peruse it not; or if you do it read,
Believe it not, but as a foolish fable.' This is a very pleasing specimen of the happiness of the old translator. The original is equally characteristic of the jocundity of Ariosto.* It must be recollected that his errors are somewhat more venial than they would have been, had he lived in the present age. We cannot judge of ancient decency by a modern standard. The Queen of Navarre imitated the Decameron; and Boileau, the stern guardian of public morals, drew a parallel between La Fontaine and Ariosto, and invited the French public to the perusal of an indecent novel. Such levity, to give it no harsher name, could not now be tolerated. We may or may not be purer in our morals than our ancestors were; but it is quite evident that our taste is more chaste. It therefore becomes the duty of every writer to avoid offending delicacy; and if he sins against the feeling of the age, the genius which he prostitutes will not redeem him from contempt. The turpitude of Casti is rendered still more conspicuous by another circumstance. He wrote at a period when moral feeling was just dawning in Italy; and this feeling he laboured to extinguish. He does not wanton like Boccaccio or Ariosto; he spits his venom at virtue and religion, seeking to degrade them, as the sole expedient by which he can palliate his own immorality. Had Casti’s morals been correct, he night have been denominated a wit, according to the true import of the term. His common conversation resembled the dialogues of his comic operas. Of these he composed but few; and they are the only ones of which the text pleases without the fiddle. King Theodore' is a master-piece. The subject is taken from Candide ; but Casti enhanced the humour of Voltaire's outline, by introducing certain traits which he had copied from nature, from a contemporary monarch, more remarkable for his quixotisin than his power; and whose character, according to his usual practice, he had studied with the intention of turning him into ridicule when the good time should arrive. He made just as free with the great names of antiquity. In an opera buffa, entitled
* Donne, e voi che le donne avete in Mettendolo Turpino, anch' io lo messo, pregio,
Non per malivolenzia nè per gara : Per Dio non date a questa istoria orecchia, Ch'io v'ami, oltre mia lingua che l'ha A questa che l'ostier dire in dispregio
espresso, E in vostra in famia e biasmo s'apparecchia: Che mai non fu di celebrarvi avara, Ben che nè macchia vi può dar ne fregio N'ho fatto mille prove ; e vho dimostro Lingua sì vile, e sia l'usanza vecchia, Ch' io son, nè potrei esser se non vostro. Ch’'l volgare ignorante ognun riprenda Passi chi vuol tre carte, o quattro, senza E parli più di quel che meno intenda. Leggerne verso, e chi pur legger vuole
Lasciate questo canto, chè senz' esso Gli dia quella medesima credenza Può star l'istoria, e non sarà men chiara. Che si suol dare a finzioni e fole.'
Catilina, Catilina, he plays the fool with Cicero and Cato. This opera has never been published; but we venture to prophesy that it will soon be given to the world. There are a great many pretended apostles of truth, who maintain that our happiness is promoted by dispelling all illusions, even those which incline us to believe that human nature has been ennobled by its virtues : some of these will print the Catilina of Casti.
After amusing himself with kings in comedy and heroes in tragedy, he renewed bis satires upon royalty in the person of Catherine the Second ; with whom he made free in a very long poem entitled Tartaro. Casti succeeded the Abbate Metastasio as Poeta Cesareo, and lived at Vienna in high favour with Joseph the Second, who used to set him on against the monks and friars. When the Poema Tartaro' appeared the Emperor Joseph was on very ill terms with the Empress Catherine ; but when each had got a slice of the kingdom of Poland, they made up their differences. The Czarina insisted that the Poeta Cesareo should be turned away; and Casti was banished from Vienna: but the
directed that the poet's pension should continue payable during the remainder of his life. Casti, with a spirit which would have honoured a better man, refused the gift, and when Joseph remitted the money to him, he would not touch it. The pecuniary losses consequent upon the publication of the Tartaro were not made up in fame. Foreigners did not relish it, and the Italians did not understand it; for they knew nothing of the court of St. Petersburgh beyond what they read in the newspapers. Neither did it add much to Italian literature. The style is unimpassioned, and the diction without grace or purity. But the poem abounds with point, and it succeeded amongst certain readers, in the same way that small wits take in society. They amuse for a moment because they flatter the bad passions of the human heart, and they end by becoming tedious.
Casti employed the last years of his life in the composition of the Animali Parlanti. He had been an acute observer both of the follies of the multitude and of the absurdities of their rulers; and he brings his knowledge in full play against mobs and courtiers, against the sottishness of the demagogue and the ravings of the tyrant. Professing to be a lover of liberty, he mocks at popular freedom as a thing which cannot exist in reality: he attacks monarchy and religion with less ambiguous irony, but always by insinuating that it is impossible to change the nature of the human species; and that man is created to be ever bullied by the strong, and cheated by the crafty. Yet what is the result of such principles ? They cause the multitude to lose themselves in Pyrrhonism, or to sink in the slough of despair'; and no situation can be more productive of wretchedness to the individual, and of